From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU)
Date: Tue Jun 10 2003 - 13:52:42 EDT
In "England's Divergence from China's Yangzi Delta" in The Journal of Asian Studies 61, no. 2 (May 2002) Brenner and Isett seem to show that proto-industrialization in England was driven forward by the rising incomes resulting from rising agrarian labor productivity while proto industrialization in the Yangzi valley drew its impetus from attempts to supplement peasant income in the face of declining productivity. Leaving aside this very important contrast, I am struck by Pomeranz's recognizing the advantage England had in labor productivity while underlining the stagnation in land productivity or total agricultural output. I am not finding the response to this point. It would seem that whatever stimulus rising agrarian labor productivity gave to proto industry in England, it may not have been sufficient in itself for the transition from proto-industry to large scale capitalist manufacture, much less resource-hungry and capital-intensive machino-facture. In different ways, both Habib and Pomeranz argue that without colonial coercion, which itself became an economic force, the transition to capitalism could have only proceeded at a snail's pace, if at all. From Kenneth Pomeranz in the same of issue of JAS, pp.578-79: The English contrast to Jiangjan's deteriorating trade environment could not be sharper. There was an enormous boom in New Wolrd exports--historically conditioned, as I argued, by the area's remarkable ecological bounty and by an unusual set of institutional arrangements, including both slavery and the massive British investment in nval power and shipping. Institutional reforms on significant parts of the European continent during and after the Napoleonic Wars also looseend supply--sie constraints on imports from there, though these changes took a long time to reach some of the most land-rich parts of the continent (e.g., Russia). Soaring quantities of land-intensive imports allowed England to experience a huge population boom, raise per capita consumption, and specialize more in mfg than before without facing sharply rising prices for primary products. British agriculture was relieved through this trade of the need to meet the country's soaring demand for fiber: gradually (and after 1846 not so gradually) it was also relieved of the need to meet much of its demand for food. Without these 'ghost acres', as Eric Jones calls them, and the trade boom more generally , the British form of agricultural capitalism, which maximized profit (and increased output per workday) by shedding labor but did not maximize total agricultural output, simply could not have provided all that was needed. Others have seen this before me (e.g., Brinley Thomas) but the point seemed worth re-emphasizing, as it is often glossed over in accounts that treat England (or Europe) in isolation from the wider world."
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